Public servants say they work better from home, despite stress: survey

Interesting (on my to do list, look at the survey’s disaggregated data):

During the pandemic, employees of local, provincial, and federal governments from coast to coast to coast have provided essential services while working from home.

And it would appear that federal employees are happier now about their workplace than they were before the pandemic, according to the 2020 Public Service Employee Survey released by the Treasury Board Secretariat last week.

While we don’t know the full story of the “big pivot” over a single weekend in March 2020 — when public servants started working from home — we do know many have been working over weekends and statutory holidays and forgoing annual leave.

This isn’t sustainable over the long term. If not attended to, such behaviour could result in a crash or organizational failure.

Stress has increased since 2019. A third of employees said they felt emotionally drained after their workday, up from 29 per cent in 2019. Just over a quarter said their workload was heavier, up slightly from 24 per cent in 2019.

However, new questions in the 2020 survey about work-life balance during the pandemic revealed some silver linings:

  • 39 per cent of employees had requested flexible work hours since the start of the pandemic; and
  • 83 per cent said their immediate supervisor allowed them.

Employees said the quality of their work improved, too. For example:

  • only 23 per cent of employees said their work quality suffered because their department or agency lacked stability, which was down from 30 per cent in 2019; and
  • just 24 per cent of employees said their work suffered because of high staff turnover, down from 32 per cent in 2019.

Employees’ perceptions of change management also improved in 2020, with 59 per cent saying change was managed well in their department or agency, compared to 50 per cent in 2019.

They also reported better feedback from their supervisors in 2020, compared to 2019:

  • 69 per cent said they received meaningful recognition for work well done, up from 65 per cent in 2019; and
  • 77 per cent said they got useful feedback from their immediate supervisor about their job performance, up from 74 per cent in 2019.

Overall job satisfaction improved in 2020, too:

  • 83 per cent of employees said they liked their job, up from 81 per cent in 2019;
  • 78 per cent reported getting a sense of satisfaction from their work, up from 76 per cent in 2019;
  • 75 per cent said they were satisfied with their department or agency, up from 71 per cent in 2019;
  • 75 per cent said they would recommend their department or agency as a great place to work, up from 70 per cent in 2019; and
  • 71 per cent of employees said they felt valued at work, up from 68 per cent in 2019.

Respondents also felt their workplace was “psychologically” healthier. For example:

  • 68 per cent said their workplace was psychologically healthy, up from 61 per cent in 2019; and
  • 81 per cent said their department or agency was doing a good job of raising awareness of mental health in the workplace, up from 73 per cent in 2019.

In response to a new question in 2020, 69 per cent of employees said they’d feel comfortable sharing concerns about their mental health with their immediate supervisor.

The survey included new questions about working during the pandemic:

  • 70 per cent said senior managers were taking adequate steps to support their mental health during the pandemic;
  • 84 per cent felt their department or agency was effectively communicating the mental-health services and resources available to them; and
  • 81 per cent said they were satisfied with the measures their department or agency was taking to protect their physical health and safety during the pandemic.

Employees were also asked about the information they received from their department or agency about the pandemic:

  • 78 per cent said it was clear and easy to understand;
  • 81 per cent said it was consistent with the information they got from their immediate supervisor; and
  • 92 per cent said the information was available in both official languages.

And finally, instances of harassment also fell. In 2020, 11 per cent of employees said they’d been harassed on the job in the previous 12 months, down from 14 per cent in 2019. In addition, 71 per cent said their department or agency worked hard to create a workplace that prevents harassment, up from 69 per cent in 2019.

So while the pandemic isn’t over, public servants remain engaged. It would appear that working from home and away from the office has improved their view of the workplace and of their senior managers.

Stephen Van Dine is the senior vice-president of public governance at the Institute on Governance.

Source: Public servants say they work better from home, despite stress: survey

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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